Improvements done now will bring benefits long into the future.
By Paul Hull
One of the problems with buzzwords and cute phrases used in the media is that they can end up meaningless and seeming childish. At the risk of being booed, I am suggesting that "greening" might become one of those buzzwords. Everywhere I look and listen, I see or hear greening this and greening that-what begins as a sensible idea ends up as another label used by some manufacturer to promote its products and services. The concept of greening, of respecting our environment and trying to ensure its safety for future generations, is excellent. The problem is that the impact of green has been diluted because it has been given as a tag for practical products, such as trucks and fleets, and for lesser items such as floor mops, socks, jewelry, running shoes and brooms. Don't be put off by this abuse of the concept. Instead of green, think of brightness. Think of coloring your fleet so that it shines. We need to ensure our fleets are becoming environmentally friendly, for many generations. We have already made a good start.
In my opinion, the best place to learn what is making our fleets safer for our communities may be Indianapolis in March 2012. That's when The Work Truck Show brings its conferences, programs and exhibits. The programs can help large and small vehicle owners-all in one place. One show event is the Green Truck Summit on Monday, March 5, and Tuesday, March 6. Topics will include idle reduction technologies, clean vehicle funding opportunities, aerodynamics, technologies for increasing fuel efficiency and gaseous fuel conversions. The sponsors for the summit include Eaton, Freightliner, International, Hino Trucks, Isuzu, RAM, ROUSH CleanTech, GreenFleet, Vanner, Telogis, Allison Hybrid, IMPCO Automotive, Propane Exceptional Energy, RSC Bio Solutions, BAE Systems and Odyne. That's a broad source of knowledge to draw from for planning your fleet's future.
Coloring with Brightness and Optimism
One of my youngest and most artistic relatives' greatest wish for Christmas was a box of colored pencils so he could design, draw, color and make the world a better place. In the same way most fleet managers understand change, he knew he could not use all the colored pencils at once. His fingers, like many utility budgets, are too small. He had to choose the timing for each one in the picture. If your utility vehicle fleet is comprised of hundreds or thousands of vehicles, it is unlikely you will change them all at once; it might be even more unlikely for the smaller utility with a few vehicles. Imagine you have less than a dozen vehicles. You'll probably update them one or two at a time, in different years. That's how you can color your fleet-one at a time, carefully, wisely and coloring within the prescribed lines. If you have a larger fleet, you might change several vehicles at a time, but always look ahead and consider the whole picture for the future. That does not infer you ignore the rest of the fleet. You still address ways to improve the performance of all your vehicles: fuel consumption, ways to control wastes generated by too much idling time, maybe a method to increase fuel efficiency by using lighter materials for equipment on the truck, and using some of the newer hydraulic options to gain better control.
As with advances in most industries, there will be new technologies to see and understand. Few of us can comprehend all the mathematical, scientific and engineering data that go into practical innovations such as engine design, fuel use and hydraulics. Most of us, however, can understand how a new technology, correctly applied, can help our efficiency, save us money, improve emissions and make our fleets green. There is an aspect of using new technologies that often isn't emphasized by engineering and design: the human factor. When you see how a better approach to idling engines can save wear, money and harmful emissions, you immediately know the people involved in the idling procedure are critical. How many bad habits are simply laziness? How many seldom-used procedures are unknown to the users because no one has ensured they know them? We are probably all guilty to some extent-whether we are vehicle drivers, fleet managers or managers. In our fleet coloring for a better future, we must consider the role and conduct of our employees and the example we can give them. Training in new techniques and mandating their use will play a vital role in any greening of our fleets.
Considerations that Could Improve the Color of Your Fleet
Any company with drivers delivering products, or, like utilities, mobile crews who travel each day to new installation, update and repair projects, will be anxious about the time, fuel and money wasted by unnecessary engine idling. For some operations, idling is necessary; for many it is not. An increasing number of communities are introducing regulations that forbid unnecessary idling to encourage cleanliness in vehicle operations. There are technologies that can control idle time-Vanner comes to mind as a source-and there are ways to receive federal tax credits for placing idle-reduction technology on new vehicles and retrofitting existing vehicles. Also worth researching are today's internal combustion engines; contrary to what many people think, there isn't a move to eliminate them. Check with engine manufacturers such as Cummins to find out the worth of today's engines and educate yourself and your employees about operation, efficiency, cleanliness and maintenance.
Our vehicle's power may receive the most attention, and deservedly so. Are electric vehicles a way to increase efficiency? What is available and which types could work for your fleet? What about vehicles that use gaseous fuels, such as natural gas and propane? Daimler Trucks North America, which includes Freightliner, has thousands of vehicles powered by hybrid or natural gas technologies. Toyota's Hino trucks have introduced several levels of diesel-electric hybrids, while Eaton offers data loggers that can identify where your fleet might benefit from a hybrid power system. Most manufacturers will tell you if their newer power systems are suitable for your applications and inform you of companies with fleets that have benefited. There is much information available for those who want it. If there is concern about certain power systems, it isn't about quality-but rather the suitability of one system over another for the applications. Local distributors might not offer the only or best solution, so do your research and ask questions before paying for changes.
For utility fleets, one of the most important vehicle components is the chassis. Many chassis adjustments depend on configuration and construction of materials-never think of one chassis as identical to another. Fortunately, today's chassis construction continues to improve and provide more flexibility for the owner's needs, and manufacturers are willing and able to build the chassis you need. There was previously a utility that had innovative plans for its trucks, but none of the money-saving additions and embellishments would fit any known chassis. Someone took it for granted that anything could be added to any chassis-or that any new equipment could be placed anywhere. Available options must be researched for mounting equipment and bodies on the chassis. There are chassis with specifications and designs that are especially helpful for the coloring of your fleet.
With all the efforts to make fleets greener, more colorful, cleaner and kinder to today's and tomorrow's environment, we must study what is available and what could be available for our situations.